(image: David and Linda Pitts at the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, New York, )
Luther Vandross soundtracking a Greater Grand Crossing block party. Kids rollerblading over Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” A young couple sitting and laughing with each other while Curtis Mayfield sings “I wanna go back, to the sweetness of time/I wanna go back, and reminisce what was mine.”
These are small excerpts from the videos and music, often old-school R&B and soul, found in the mixes that make up “Spinning Home Movies,” a new DJ series from the South Side Home Movie Project (SSHMP) and Arts and Public Life at the University of Chicago. Broadcast over a Facebook livestream every Thursday at 7 p.m., each entry features a different DJ putting together a mix over footage from the SSHMP archive.
It’s an attempt to make music “to warm your heart and spirit” during a global pandemic. “The initial plan was to do basically a live mix, where we would be projecting the movies from the collection while the DJ is spinning records and we have visuals on both,” said Tony Santiago “But we were placed in a different situation where we were thinking, how do we still make this into a show? We had to figure out how to start streaming stuff.”
The SSHMP has been around since 2005, when U. of C. professor Jacqueline Stewart began collecting home movie footage from South Side residents. A few years ago, a digital archive went up online. The collection features clips of home video footage donated from South Side families. Much of it is alternately mundane and historic — everything from a Christmas gathering to the 1963 public school boycott against segregation.
The project has used the archive for music performances before. In 2018, the Chicago singer Jamila Woods played some clips onstage behind her during a live show at the Harold Washington Cultural Center. (Stewart interviewed Woods about the collaboration the next year.) And the set played during the first week of “Spinning Home Movies” — a mix by DJ Selah Say — was originally part of “South Side Sisterhood,” a public program at the Logan Center celebrating sisters.
The shows are streamed on Facebook Live, where viewers can talk to the DJs through the comment feature. An archive is hosted on the movie project’s YouTube page. Right now, the project has sets scheduled through May, though there are plans to extend it into the summer months. The SSHMP also lets families know if their footage is going to be used — sometimes, they’ll pop into the livestream for an interview, or just to watch.
“We get to talk to folks who are part of the collection, and they’re reflecting on the footage, their feelings: what parts of those times are missing now and what parts are still here,” said Tony Santiago, theater and programs manager at Arts and Public Life. Santiago hosts the program, setting the stage for each week’s mix with a little introduction.
“I come from the MTV, VH1, BET generation, and so I still don’t know what to call what we’re doing — it’s like a really cool, extended music video,” he said.
Up this week is Jacquelyn Carmen Guerrero, who performs under the name DJ CQQCHiFRUIT. Guerrero (who uses they/she pronouns) is a musician and visual artist, perhaps best-known for being one-half of TRQPiTECA, a production company that started out as a queer, tropical dance party in Pilsen.
Earlier this month, someone from Arts and Public Life reached out earlier this month to see if they were interested in being a part of the series, and Guerrero took a look at the SSHMP archive. “It really just took me sitting down a couple of times to see what was there, to see what I was attracted to, and then to actually put the visuals together,” they said.
Initially, they found themselves drawn to clips from family trips — some from their hometown of Miami, others in Puerto Rico.
“It’s very interesting to kind of live vicariously through people’s travels,” Guerrero said. “It’s indicative of my journeys, of people’s journeys that we now have the pleasure of accessing decades later, and thematic journeys and connections in between really different subject matter.”
Santiago said that Guerrero’s piece is different than many of the mixes to date. “She really curated the timestamps in the collection while other DJs have been like, ‘Here are my thoughts,’ ” he said. “It’s crazy — she basically produced and directed it herself.”
After the initial vacation footage, Guerrero’s piece returns to Chicago. There the clips range across a broad spectrum of tones and genres: Gloria Gaynor at the 1979 edition of the short-lived ChicagoFest; homemade “apocalyptic robot” stop-motion animation; footage of East Garfield Park in the immediate aftermath of the 1968 riots. (Santiago said he’s trying to get Freddy Atkins, who created the stop-motion story, to sit in for an interview.)
“I think this is footage that a lot of people probably haven’t seen,” Guerrero said of the clips from the riots. “It was really interesting to just go back in time and visit that crisis, and then also experiencing the crisis that we are in now. I definitely wanted to make a connection between that and the contrast between leisure and travel and entertainment and good times, and then the conflict and drama.”
Guerrero’s choice of music is just as varied as the video’s images, shifting styles to create an emotional arc. “Journeys” begins with some of the “tropical aesthetics” Guerrero is best-known for; in this case, it’s Spanish flamenco and Afro-diasporic music. Eventually, though, the palette shifts: first to disco, then to darker electro sounds. It’s part of their effort, Guerrero said, to use the materials of the past — amateur video in an archive, the trance they grew up listening to on the radio in Miami — to help people feel the reality of life during a global pandemic.
“These themes are something that people in my community on the West Side and South Side have been dealing with for a very long time. And now especially, considering that we know the vast majority of people dying from COVID-19 are Black Chicagoans,” they said. “This is an internal crisis, where people are experiencing death and extreme poverty and unemployment. And we’re all very disconnected.”